In Pakistan, the normalization debate on Israel is dead
The centrality of the Palestine issue for the broader Muslim world was once more affirmed by events that transpired at the end of this Ramadan in occupied East Jerusalem, Gaza and even within several Israeli cities. For the first time, the Israeli strategy of securitizing the issue and the political discourse around it seems to be faltering. Although the Palestinian political landscape remains heavily divided, the civic activism of Palestinians against the encroachment on their lands and a relative change in the world’s consciousness of the apartheid nature of the Israeli state and its practices, has meant that the Israeli government failed to control the discourse of conflict this time.
The temperature in the old city of Jerusalem has been rising since the start of Ramadan mainly owing to attempts by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of the city. The tension was further exacerbated by the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli police on one of the holiest nights of the Muslim calendar and the ensuing arrests of those praying within the compound of the mosque.
The Israeli government knew very well that it was playing with fire by attempting to provoke Palestinians in these sacred days. The violence exacerbated further once Hamas, the de-facto ruler of Gaza launched rockets toward Israel and the Israeli Air Force started a massive bombardment of civilian homes and infrastructure. Clashes broke out between Palestinians and Israeli Jews within different Israeli cities. The resultant police arrests and actions mainly against the Palestinians and a failure by authorities to stop the attacks by ultra rightwing Jewish mobs against Arab owned businesses and properties again lay bare the inherent apartheid character of the Israeli state.
The violence finally stopped as the international community and regional heavyweights brokered a cease-fire. Yet this time again, the people of Gaza were made to pay more than anyone else. Israeli attacks have resulted in 248 deaths with 68 of them children-- and nearly 1,900 wounded. The damage to properties and infrastructure within Gaza has been massive and owing to the Israeli blockade, health facilities and provisions within the strip are not able to cope up with the scale of the crisis.
Those in favour of establishing ties with Israel have argued that this will provide Pakistan with enormous political and security leverage. Israel has remained a close ally of India and has been providing it with hi-tech weapons, ammunitions and possibly even drones.
This nascent episode of violence in the Palestine-Israel confrontation might not have really impacted the political spectrum of the Muslim world had it not taken place in the backdrop of the Abrahamic Accords. As the normalization of ties with Israel gathered pace in the Muslim world, a debate within Pakistan also started on this very question.
The debate within the intellectual and policymaking community of Pakistan on the Israel question has not been really centered around the politics of the Palestine issue itself but hovers around the possible strategic, political and defense dividends vis-à-vis India and the broader western world. Those in favor of establishing ties with Israel have argued that this will provide Pakistan with enormous political and security leverage. Israel has remained a close ally of India and has been providing it with hi-tech weapons, ammunitions and possibly even drones. If Pakistan decides to initiate engagement with the Israeli side this extra-advantage and edge of the Indian side can be neutralized.
Those in favor of recognizing Israel have also cited the examples of states like Turkey that accepted Israel many decades ago and reaped its diplomatic support, particularly on the Armenian issue. Furthermore, even if Turkey’s current government periodically steps up its criticism of Israeli actions and projects itself as a champion of the Palestinian cause, the security and economic collaboration between the two sides is not really imperilled by their political differences. Another such example has been Azerbaijan, which has maintained strong political and defense ties with Israel and with ammunition from Israel playing a crucial role in the success of the Azeri military campaign to take back the Armenian occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Yet, those who oppose such a move cite the similarities between the Palestinian and Kashmiri struggle against foreign occupation of their lands and Pakistan’s religious obligation toward the liberation of the Qibla-e-Awal. There has also been some questioning of the actual strategic merit of forging ties with Israel and how much Israel will be willing to revisit its defense engagement with India.
The outburst of sympathy and support for Palestine across the public sphere in Pakistan after this episode has been enormous. For the first time, the youth and particularly millennials, that have been hitherto rather unaware of the nature of this conflict, now stand firmly on the Palestinian side. In Pakistan, the normalization debate on Israel stands dead.
- Umar Karim is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the evolution of Saudi Arabia’s strategic outlook, the Saudi-Iran tussle, conflict in Syria, and the geopolitics of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. Twitter: @UmarKarim89